cy wind rattled the coffee shop windows. The string of fairy lights outside the storefront shook, striking the glass in a repeating tink, tink, tink, like the drumming of skeletal fingers. Darkness came early this time of year, but the shop was lit with the soft glow of many stained-glass lamps.
It felt safe. Inviting. Warm.
Maybe a little too warm, Agent Harris thought. She sat at a small table and placed her second cup of coffee in front of her. Melted snow dampened her thick scarf, the color of an evergreen. She unwound it from her neck and placed it delicately into the empty shopping bag at her feet.
Straightening again, she tapped the coffee cup impatiently with one hand, her blunt fingernails matching the tink, tink, tink of the string lights on the glass. The other hand went beneath her winter coat, clutching the concealed badge.
Shoppers rushed by, a stream of faces, fur-lined hoods, and armfuls of purchases. Some pushed into the coffee shop to escape the freezing weather conditions. Each time the door chimed open, Agent Harris craned her neck, searching.
So far, no sign of the girl.
She released her badge and rubbed the sore spot at the base of her skull.
The door chimed.
And there she was, shaking snow from her long black curls.
Young, Agent Harris thought. The girl, sixteen, so really a teenager. But there was a hard edge to her dark eyes.
She approached the counter and ordered, removing her wool mittens and stuffing them in her coat pocket. She likely had at least half a dozen knives, Agent Harris knew, hidden inside that coat.
The girl may have blended in with the crowd, but she was dangerous–and Agent Harris was here to arrest her.
“Ida,” Agent Harris said, approaching the girl. “It’s so good to see you!”
She turned a little too quickly but kept a neutral expression. Wariness flashed in her eyes, but if Agent Harris hadn’t known to look, she would have missed it.
“Do I know you?”
The barista handed Ida her coffee.
“I was a friend of your mother’s,” Agent Harris said. “Here, let me get that for you.”
She handed the cashier two dollars.
“A friend?” Ida asked. “You kind of look like her. Are we related?”
Agent Harris pointed toward the door. “I have a table over there. Let’s sit and chat for a few minutes.”
They both sat, but neither removed her coat.
“I’m sorry about your mom,” Agent Harris said finally.
“It’s been what, five years?”
“Yeah.” Ida looked down and blew on her coffee.
“I lost my mom, too. Around the same age as you. It definitely made growing up harder.”
Ida turned those hard eyes up at Agent Harris.
“Looks like you did okay.”
The older woman laughed.
“I wasn’t for a long time.” She pushed away her cold coffee. “How about you, Ida? How are you?”
The girl didn’t say anything. Agent Harris knew the girl wasn’t okay. After her mother’s death, she’d been sent to live with her uncle. The same uncle who had led her down a very dark path.
“Hey, I have something for you.” Agent Harris reached into the shopping bag and removed the scarf. She placed it on the table between them.
Ida’s mouth gaped open.
“This is my mother’s,” she whispered. “I’ve been looking for it for years.”
“I know,” Agent Harris said.
Ida pulled the mittens out of her coat. They were the same shade of green.
“Where did you get this?”
“Not where. When.” Agent Harris said.
The door chimed. A slice of winter air, sharp as a knife, stabbed into the coffee shop.
“I don’t understand,” Ida said. She picked up the scarf and brought it up to her face, inhaling deeply. “It still smells like her.” Tears filled her eyes.
Agent Harris took her hands. Ida stared down at the older woman’s fingernails, chewed down to the quick, just like her own.
The girl immediately pulled back.
“Who are you?”
The stained-glass lamps flickered.
Agent Harris flashed her badge.
“I’m here to take you into custody.”
Ida cried openly now. She nodded.
“Okay, but who are you?”
“You already know the answer to that,” Agent Harris said. “I’m you, and I remember this exact moment. How scared I was.”
Ida’s fists clenched. Agent Harris remembered the storm inside herself. Mistrust fueled the urge to fight. Her younger self reached inside her coat. Agent Harris saw the quick flash of a knife blade.
“No, Ida,” she said gently. “If you come with me, your uncle won’t be able to hurt you anymore. I promise.”
Suspicion gave way to something else. Hope? Agent Harris guessed that was close to what she had felt. A way out of the violence and the impossibly dark world without her mother.
She reached across the table and took the knife from Ida. In its place, Agent Harris offered the scarf.
The lamps flickered again, and a sound like thunder crashed outside.
The table shook, clattering their coffee cups.
“We have to go,” she told Ida. “Now.”
The girl took the scarf, drying her tears with it.
“But we’re okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, we’re okay.” Agent Harris stood. “We go on to help a lot of girls just like us.”
She extended her hand to Ida.
Ida took Agent Harris’s hand tightly in her own.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s go.”